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Orillia getting new secondary school

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

Orillia District Collegiate Vocational Institute

Orillia District Collegiate Vocational Institute

Debra Edwards felt like “dancing in the street” while Jodi Lloyd “just about drove off the road.”

The ecstatic reactions came early Thursday morning when the Ontario government announced funding for a new Orillia high school.

“I have to honestly say, as elated as I am, I’m honestly shocked,” Edwards, Orillia’s Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) trustee, said Thursday. “I feel like we’ve won the lottery. We’re very grateful we’re the recipients of a very small provincial capital-funding pot.”

The funding comes nearly four years after an accommodation review committee (ARC) recommended amalgamating Park Street Collegiate Institute and Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute (ODCVI).

The proposed $27.5 million project will see ODCVI and Park Street students merge into a new facility on the Park Street site.

“This community has been very patient and worked very hard to make this happen,” said Lloyd, SCDSB trustee for Severn, Ramara and Tay townships. “Though it’s taken us a while to get the money, certainly, the end result will be very worth it.”

The full year Orillia’s ARC worked toward its recommendations was not “in vain,” Edwards said.

“It’s been like a dark cloud waiting for funding. (We were in) an anti-climactic mode after the ARC,” she said. “This is going to restore confidence in the process for accommodation reviews.”

Keeping the “pressure on” the government was key, Edwards said.

“We kept our presence known,” she said. “Each time at the Ontario Public School (Boards Association) Conference, I have stood up and asked questions on behalf of Orillia.”

Edwards said Orillia is fortunate to have received so much funding lately for the city’s schools.

The government funded the construction of Lions Oval Public School in 2009 and recently renovated Regent Park Public School and Harriett Todd Public School.

“This is unprecedented for the City of Orillia to be the fortunate recipient of so much ministry capital funding in such a short period of time,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be such a morale booster.”

Jim Sammon, principal of Park Street Collegiate Institute, was thrilled to hear a new school would be built.

“It’s very exciting news for our students, for their families, for the board and for the city,” he said. “Both the facilities at Park Street and ODCVI in the next little while would be entering the prohibitive-to-repair range.”

A new facility will offer updated equipment to enhance the students’ learning experience, Sammon said.

By increasing the number of students in the school, more programs could be offered, he said.

“This will offer wonderful opportunities to enhance the programming that we deliver to our kids,” Sammon said.

John Dance, the SCDSB’s superintendent of facility services, was chair of Orillia’s ARC.

“We did a lot of work leading up to this,” he said. “This is great news for the City of Orillia. It validates the work of the ARC.”

Some preliminary work has been completed on the project, Dance said.

“One of the key things in this is the demolition, removal of the Park Street building, then rebuild there,” he said. “That would be the first step.”

The students would all be housed at ODCVI.

“If we can get rolling on the construction at Park Street, the intent would be to have all the students at ODCVI,” Dance said.

The SCDSB is targeting a September 2015 school opening.

“The sooner we can get to that, the better,” Dance said. “That’s what our goal is and we’re hoping that’s going to be the one to take place.”

The exact funding from the government has not yet been determined, Dance said.

“We try to make sure we have the project completely funded.”

Funding is based on enrolment. Enrolment is expected to be 950 students.

The two schools are merging due to declining enrolment.

“The enrolment has declined, the buildings have continued to age, the infrastructure is in need of repairs,” Lloyd said. “It needed to happen.”

Today, ODCVI, built for 933 students, has 647. Park Street, built for 954 students, has 611 and Twin Lakes Secondary School, built for 966, has 793.

A new secondary school in Orillia was the board’s No. 1 capital priority.

In November, the SCDSB proposed merging ODCVI and Park Street as it awaited funding.

“We (did) that in anticipation of moving this forward with hopes we would receive a funding announcement,” Lloyd said. “It put the processes in place to continue to move this forward.”

Along with the new Orillia high school, the Ontario government announced funding for two more SCDSB schools.

A new secondary school will be constructed in south Barrie and two elementary schools — one public, one catholic — will be built in Bradford.

“Those two schools are to address accommodation pressures,” Lloyd said. “Even though we have declining enrolment in the north end of the county, we do still have increased enrolment in the south end of the county.”

Twitter: @Sara_VRoss

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